Last summer, while the world focused on dealing with COVID-19 and the challenges of hosting the Olympic Games safely in Tokyo, a decision was made by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that went mostly unnoticed in the public eye. Brisbane was elected as the host of the 2032 edition of the Games. This was the first edition of the Games to be awarded under the IOC’s new approach – an approach that is based on direct dialogue with a potential host and not on a public race for candidates to win the rights to become an Olympic host.
More recently, the bidding process for the UEFA EURO 2028 has been launched. And in 2022, we can expect the process from FIFA for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2027 to be launched. Football, for the time being, seems to be sticking to the more traditional bidding model of a competitive public race – although changes to the process have strengthened the transparency and democracy of these decisions.
With two distinct models now being used by the strongest of international sports organisations, are we any closer to finding the best way to select a host?
Safer, cheaper, fairer for the Olympic Games?
The IOC is now focusing its efforts on entering into a dialogue with interested parties and working together with these parties to build a concept for a future edition of the Games.
From the side of both the IOC and the host, this approach reduces risks and surprises, seemingly making it safer for everyone. There are no sudden public withdrawals of candidates and no public humiliations when a bid fails to be elected. This also means, however, that both the IOC and potential candidates miss out on a tremendous amount of promotion that stems from a competitive public bidding race – promotion of the Olympic Games, Olympic values and of the place that is trying to attract the Games.
This dialogue approach seems to be much cheaper for both parties involved. However, again, a lot of the budget that was being spent by candidates in previous bidding races was going towards promotion, as well as creating new and innovative ways to host the Olympics. Although the dialogue approach aims to create a concept for the Games that fits with the hosts existing infrastructure, budget and development plans, it also risks negating some of the creative and innovative developments that were sparked by the competition between bids.
There is also a question of fairness when it comes to this new approach. With no clear milestones in place for potential candidates to express their interest and no clear process for a candidate to follow, is it a fair competition? A winner is announced, with potential competitors feeling they weren’t even given the chance to enter the competition.
Competition at the core for football
Over the years, UEFA and FIFA have also had to adapt their approach to selecting hosts for their top events, mainly in order to ensure a transparent and democratic process. They have both decided to continue to fuel the competitive nature of sport with a public bid race – at least so far.
Both organisations continue to have a public process with clear milestones and regulations. The risk is remains that candidates can drop out, and disappointment is somehow ensured as not all candidates will come out as winners. With that said, the rights-holder and competitors are able to reap the benefits of the promotion being part of the bidding process provides. And football is able to capitalize on the competition between bidders to ensure innovative new approaches are constantly being developed.
One of the biggest changes coming from UEFA and FIFA is in the decision-making process. In the case of the lattera public vote of all 211 Member Associations ensures a level of accountability that would not come with a secret vote, and a level of democracy that would not come with a decision of the FIFA Council only.
Transparency and fairness are what matter most
It is clear that both approaches – dialogue versus public competitive race – have pros and cons. So how can we decide which approach is the best?
The fundamental values of sport come down to having a transparent and fair competition. While football has made this a priority when deciding on their future hosts, the IOC has shied away from these values. As the next round of bidding for both major international events start to get underway over the coming year it will be interesting to watch how each organisation’s approach evolves – and how this will filter into the processes ofother international rights holders.
A hybrid approach that combines dialogue and a public race and sticks to the values of transparency and fairness may just be the best approach – let’s see who cracks this case first.